Virat Kohli is bamboozled by a Jaffa from Ngidi. He is beaten hands down by the one that sharply came back in from short of a length. The ball would have gone at least a few inches above the stumps if it hadn't lost the will to bounce. Instead, Kohli is hit around the knee roll. He crouched. He stayed down for about a second and then came back a few yards in the same position before standing up again to see that he was given out LBW. But he already knew, in those couple of seconds, that it was all over. South Africa knew it was all over. The dressing rooms, the media, the audience, even the pigeons on the ground knew that it was all over. There was a finality in that moment. Day 5 is not going to matter.
There is no true despair in life without hope. DRS is that hope. This dismissal is an advertisement for the masterclass that teaches when not to take the DRS review in terms of technicalities. Who bothered about technicalities though? Kohli risked being dropped for the next test had he not taken that review. It was wrong. It was fruitless. It should not have been taken. But he had to go for it. Who are you saving it for anyway? We inadvertently look at the palms as soon as we sneeze into them. It's in the muscle memory. It does not serve any purpose but we do it. This is cricket’s new muscle memory. The next time the umpire may as well give him out and signal for review himself.
Kohli knew this is India’s best chance to compete. Such were the conditions. But it's like driving a car you are not accustomed to, in a race happening on a very familiar road. Driving is not the same but you don’t understand how it is different either until it is too late. When it takes you a few extra milliseconds to take that crucial turn, you know in your heart that there is no catching up from here. It's a situation when even miracle must outperform itself for the result to change. Kohli’s dismissal was those few extra milliseconds.
Everybody is in a supporting role when Kohli is on the field. Even the South Africans. He is an individual in the team. And in some ways, he is The Team. He is the sledge on the field and he is the cheer. He is the noise and he is the only one who can cut through it. He is the fighter on the field and the one in the match referee’s cabin. He is the one driving himself and his team along. He so badly wants to win this. He is every bit of Kohli that we all know. But this time he is not going to be enough.
As it turns out, it’s not so much about the conditions on the field as it is about the conditions in one's head. That is why a technically vulnerable Virat Kohli makes 153 on an uneven pitch fighting the Cape Town daemons in his head, whereas a technically stronger Pujara gets run out twice in the same test. That is why the Bhuvaneshvar Kumars of this world do well at the international level while the Shaun Taits get forgotten in obscurity. That is why Dhoni is such an outlier when it comes to number achievements in accordance with perceived limited talent. The mind is the differentiator. Sadly, you cannot teach that.
Now, after all, that has happened, Picking Rahane over Rohit is like replacing one scrambled mind with another. It is a test of character like never before. Not of Rohit Sharma or Ajinkya Rahane, but of Virat Kohli. Kohli knows the value of the captain's support but does he have the same eye and the courage that helped him at the crucial stage of his career to be what he is today? Can he believe in himself and trust his decisions, when nobody does? Can he see through the noise after all this? Can he?
Kohli’s post-match press conference was a disaster. It would have been worse without his 153 in the first innings. Runs matter. On and off the field. The only thing that went right for him was that he did not blame the pitch or the conditions. He talked about being hard on himself and asking everyone else to do the same. There is no other way anyway.